Freemium gaming has no shortage of critics. It’s understandable, given that such games have earned a reputation for nickle and diming their players. EA have taken the concept further than ever with Real Racing 3, their attempt at combining the freemium model with AAA production values. The result? Possibly the most depressing thing to happen in modern gaming.

This article started life as a review, but seeing as Real Racing 3 is less a game and more an attempt at flagrant money grabbing, providing a score would be tricky. Ethically it doesn’t feel right writing a typical review.

“Gameplay not included. Fun may cost extra.”

On the surface, Real Racing 3 is an impressive game, bringing almost console-quality graphics to mobile devices – although the sparse trackside visuals don’t quite match the pretty cars. The racing experience itself is adequate, but with the vague tilt controls, auto-acceleration and feeble opponents, it’s not remotely near the same league as anything on a console. That’s probably because EA haven’t really made a racing game, but a car-themed credit-grinding simulator, in an effort to part you from your cash at every turn.

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Players have two choices – either wait a ridiculous amount of time for just about everything or spend money. After each race your car needs repairs – and repairs take time, unless you’re willing to pay to skip them. You’ll need to upgrade your car to compete – not only do the upgrades cost credits, but they take time to be ‘delivered’ too – unless, once again, you pay. New cars cost credits too – a lot of credits – so you’ll probably just want to buy them. A typical sporty little number will set you back around £4 give or take, whilst the most expensive car in the game (the Koenigsegg Agera R) will set you back half a life-time of in-game currency or an instant £69.99 purchase. So, about the same as three and a half copies of the infinitely superior Gran Turismo 5…

Freemium games aren’t necessarily terrible. There’s nothing really wrong with spending a few pounds to unlock a nice new vehicle. When the game itself is free, it’s expected that you’ll spend a few pounds if you enjoy the game. Unfortunately, EA think it’s acceptable for a game to be almost unplayable unless you spend money, and they won’t be happy until you spend at least a hundred pounds, preferrably more, or better yet, just setup a monthly direct debit to their account.

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EA recently stated that all of their new games would feature micro-transactions, so shortly not even console gamers will be safe. Paid downloadable content has been around for a while now, but following the freemium model would take things a whole step further – although ‘freemium’ would be a bit of a misnomer, seeing as EA’s console games will still cost forty or fifty pounds.

Which makes Real Racing 3 quite worrying. If it turns out to be a huge success – given the download numbers and EA’s clout it may well do – it could become the model for all future AAA mobile games and even bleed into console gaming. As long as the profit margin is high enough, publishers will be quite happy to inconvenience and annoy players, as they seek bribes to make the experience tolerable.

Let’s hope this isn’t the future. We don’t like the idea of a future where games come in a box labelled “Gameplay not included. Fun may cost extra”.